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Speeches and presentations

ConstructionSkills Open Meeting

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Question & Answer Session

Sir Michael Latham (Chairman, ConstructionSkills): Thank you very much indeed, James. Ladies and gentlemen, we are five minutes early, I am delighted to say, which is a good thing. It is over now to you to raise with us any issues, concerns, suggestions, comments, any thoughts that you have heard arising from either the work of ConstructionSkills as a whole or what you have heard any of us speakers say, or anything else that is on your mind. [Housekeeping details]

John Slaughter (Home Builders Federation): I will start because I apologise that I have to leave early. On the sustainability issue, which has certainly become very big for us in terms of residential development, we are engaged specifically on the objective of trying to achieve zero carbon homes building standard in 10 years’ time. We have already identified that skills will be a very big issue, but it is not just skills for the construction industry it is about energy supply, it is about the abilities of planners and other technical people who are not necessarily directly employed by the development industry itself to deliver an effective and practical vision of how we do this. I know I have contacted you about this separately but I think it would be interesting to hear your views about how this would work and how you would see construction skills being able to work (not just with the organisations that were mentioned earlier but potentially with other bodies such as the Academy for Sustainable Communities) in realising this agenda, which I think is more specific and will require some particularly focused practical approaches to delivering the objective.

Sir Michael Latham: Thank you very much, John. I will say a few words first if I may and then ask other colleagues to comment as well, and I will also ask Peter Lobban or one of his team to say specifically what ConstructionSkills is doing in this regard. What I would like to say first is that a couple of weeks ago I was at the NHBC’s annual lunch down at Vinopolis, and I was sitting next to the then-Chairman of quite a large house-building company, one of the HBC members. We were talking over lunch before the speaker, Michael Goss, and he said to me ‘Two or three years ago none of my house purchasers were interested in sustainability at all. In fact, they were probably looking to avoid it in case it added to the cost of the house that they were buying. Now’ he said ‘they are coming to me and my company saying “What are you doing about making my house sustainable, define it for me” and so on’, so there is real purchasing power and demand out there which he said was not there two or three years ago, and I am sure that is correct.

Graham, would you like to say a few words about this?

Graham Watts (Chief Executive, CIC): The point that occurred to me during the question is that integration is a key to all of this, because clearly planners, architects, engineers, house-builders, the whole spectrum of built environment professions and professionals is key to this, and therefore that is part of what CIC is about. First of all in CIC there is this joining-up of the professions, but within the Sector Skills Council network, the Skills for Business network, linkages between the SSCs that cover this territory and making sure that the role of the planners in sustainability for example in asset skills and summit skills for the building services people, that is all being looked after. The role of the built environment skills alliance, which Peter knows a lot more about than I, is pretty key to that – and now I will hand the microphone to Peter.

Peter Lobban (Chief Executive ConstructionSkills): Thank you, Graham. I will pass over to any colleagues who want to volunteer but I will start. It is an interesting question to ask what the role of the Sector Skills Council is in this issue if we take zero carbon homes. Clearly this is an issue around education. It is not for us to design zero carbon homes, it is for us to work with others who are doing that, and there are other people that we do want to work with. One of the bodies that we have just signed a Memorandum of Agreement with is the BRE. I was up there in Watford just a couple of weeks ago, and they are preparing for Off Site 2007 and they have some very exciting houses. Whether they are zero carbon, they are certainly getting there, and we certainly want to work with you, John, and the HBF because I know you have a target there.

But my reflection, if you will forgive me mentioning the name which is banned today which is the old ITB was very much focused on what happened on site and craft. If we are going to look at zero carbon, and I think we have to look well outside our footprint back into manufacturing, dealing with the other sector skills councils as you said, Graham, and also with the professions and design, it is pulling things together. So I do think it is a very good challenge for us as a sector skills council, but it will be working with other people and spreading their education and their knowledge.

On the issue of skills, and that is taking us much more into the manufacturing area, that is a very important issue which we will be addressing with people from the manufacturing sector. Does anybody else want to add anything?

James Wates (Chairman, Strategic Forum for Construction): The message needs to extend beyond the actual footprint of the building you are building, everything that is coming into it and the manufacturing process is fundamental to the process, and zero carbon goes all the way back to the roots rather than just what is stuck up on site; so I think integration with the other areas is absolutely spot-on.

Sir Michael Latham: I am delighted to welcome the President of the RIBA Jack Pringle, who wants to say something.

Jack Pringle (Royal Institute of British Architects) : Thank you very much, but before I get to that congratulations on your achievements through 2006. You drew out key areas that we are all concerned about – the volume of work that needs to be done, the volume of workers needed, productivity issues, quality issues – and certainly the RIBA are very pleased to be involved with you all through the CIC and directly in that.

With regard to climate change I think you, Sir Michael, made a very telling comment and it is one that we have been thinking about quite a lot. You told us that somebody said ‘Only three years ago I was thinking about something completely different and now it is climate change’. It is like that for everybody in the construction industry, professionals and constructors alike. We have to do a right turn; it is immediate. All of us will have to do something completely different tomorrow to that which we did yesterday, and the problem is it is not a gradual transition where we can learn the skills by osmosis and the normal process of gathering new technologies, it is abrupt, and that brings a key role for research, a key role for institutions, and we all have to play a part in this.

We at the RIBA are commissioning research with a view to creating toolkits for instance for our members, so ordinary architects right up and down the country can get the benefit, if you like, of other people’s knowledge who have been specialists in that field. We would be delighted to work with other people in different organisations, because we think there is so much work to do – and so much money needed to be raised from inside our group but also perhaps from other groups, the Government, Carbon Trust, etc. to pile into that research.

A final shot on this: new housing, like other buildings, might be the easy end of this problem, but it is the existing building stock which we need real imagination to address, and also which will create massive amounts of work for all our members right the way through the country coast-to-coast. Thank you.

Nick Raynsford (Chairman, CIC): I would only add that there is a real threat in the problem that Jack has identified of requiring a very dramatic step-change and change of direction in how we approach this, and that is that everyone gets excited by it and goes off in different directions, and you end up with a series of ill-co-ordinated initiatives. If I can give two illustrations, one of those is the rush by politicians to stick windmills on their roofs to be seen to be energy conscious when essentially most of the evidence suggests that they will probably never pay their way, and in fact they will probably blow down in a storm fairly rapidly (which will at least put that politician out of their misery for a period).

The second is the conflict between the use of building regulations and the planning regime. We are seeing at the moment the real problem of some local authorities trying to set different planning requirements in order to promote energy efficiency. They are doing absolutely the right thing; they want to encourage developers to be more energy-conscious, but you see a plethora of different requirements coming, and if those are then not designed to fit with the building regulations you will have an impossible series of demands on the manufacturers to produce products that can be used extensively and will be cost-effective to produce.

So we really have to be serious about this issue of integration. We have to ensure that the natural enthusiasm to do the right thing does not lead people off in a load of different directions some of which are wild goose chases, others of which are going to work against the industry’s long-term interests and society’s long-term interests.

Sir Michael Latham: Before we move on, could I just add one more thing? Three-and-a-half years ago a woman called Annie Hall was seconded to ConstructionSkills from the Environment Agency (and she has now gone back there), but very soon afterwards she came to see me together with Professor Clement to show the draft presentation that she was going to make to CITV ConstructionSkills staff as they were throughout the country. I said to her ‘Very good presentation, but there are just two thoughts you might like to bear in mind’. The first thought is that she had entitled it ‘Sustainability’ or something like that, and – remember, this is three-and-a-half years ago – I said ‘Nobody knows what sustainability means; all the experts argue amongst themselves, but what we need to do is use some other term’, and I suggested “built to last”, and not just for buildings but communities and so on. She said ‘What a good idea’ and she changed it to that; unfortunately two-and-half years later David Cameron has a Conservative Manifesto – but I don’t suppose any of you have ever read it!

The other thing I said was ‘Let’s try and make this as practical as possible’, so it doesn’t matter whether it is the training of architects or whether it is site managers or whoever it is. If it is site managers on site say to their buyers ‘We do not want that material we want that one because it is sustainable, we don’t want to fill the skip up and we can re-cycle lots of things’. To architects it is about design and using sustainable design and so on, so let’s try and make it as practical as possible.

I think that is tremendously important, because as Jack rightly said we can talk about global warming all the time but at the end of the day the man or woman on site or in a designer’s office is saying ‘What do I actually have to do?’, and we have to help them in that regard and give them as much advice as we can, whether it is the professional institutions or ConstructionSkills or the Federations or whatever. That is a very important point, so thank you very much.

Gerald Slack (Taylor Woodrow): Michael, I think like many I was heartened to hear that there is real evidence of people entering further education in terms of the built environment, and I was wondering whether we understand the thing that is driving that improvement and the dynamics around it so we can collectively accelerate it. The view from our organisation in terms of the image, and Nick Raynsford was very articulate on that point, is that we are seeing a sea change in terms of how people perceive the construction industry.

Nick Raynsford: Image is hugely important, and I will not repeat that. I do think it is important that we get away from the traditional images that construction courses are essentially about a single disciplinary approach. We need to be much more multi-disciplinary and willing to understand that people in the course of their careers will not just use the skills they acquired during their higher education period but will need to be re-skilled and re-trained and acquire other sk9lls in what is a very, very fast-moving world that we now live in. So greater flexibility, a greater willingness to experiment in ways, not sacrificing the technical expertise in particular areas that is required, but ensuring a greater understanding and cross-disciplinary approach.

If I can just refer to something that you mentioned, Michael, in your comments, the Young Construction Professionals’ Initiative, I think at the beginning of next month, is a great opportunity to encourage young people with aspiration and with a real wish to make a contribution, to understand how they working with others can make a big impact.

I am not an expert in higher education, but I do think those are some of the critical factors.

Sir Michael Latham: James, your company must have plenty of qualified people employed; what are you looking for to encourage them?

James Wates: I suppose recognising that the industry is undoubtedly becoming more attractive to people. At graduate level for example we are seeing more people attracted having done a foundation degree, and that is working with us and then deciding what their vocational change will be and what they will move into. That is a market that was never there before because we were always looking purely at vocational professionals coming in. Generally we just have to look at developing on Nick’s point. People will have to have a wider range of skills. The industry is now in a position where it can be more demanding of the skills coming forward, so it is more demand led than supply push. We have moved away from ‘This is an apprenticeship and this is what you get’ to something much more integrated. The industry is more integrated with its trainers, which means that we are getting more people who are fit for purpose.

Gerald Slack: If I may add one other thing before Peter comes in, in my own company we take on 20 or 30 graduates every year as management trainees, but the last couple of years we have been taking on (in conjunction I must say with CIOB who runs excellent courses in this regard) what are known in the jargon as ‘non-cogs’, that is to say people who do not have construction degrees of any kind but whom we send to university to learn about the construction industry as a whole although they are already graduates. They are proving to be excellent managers, and that is really good.

The other thing I would say is that although as Nick rightly says there has been an improvement, which is very good, there are some areas where I believe there is still a lot of work to do in conjunction with SummitSkills such as building services engineering, for example, where there is a problem. Peter?

Peter Lobban: If you will forgive me for a personal reflection, this is one of the areas where the industry has increasingly come to ask ConstructionSkills to do part of their job. If you go back five or 10 years each individual company was focusing on its own recruitment and they have asked us to do more and more, starting with National Construction Week, the Positive Image campaigns. We have done that, hopefully quite successfully people will agree, but we have not done it heedlessly; we have done research, so we do tracking surveys with young people and we look at their attitudes, and we have been tracking changes in their attitudes. Nicola can comment on that, we have quite a lot of research work.

One of the things we asked ourselves a long time ago was ‘Who are the heroes of our industry, the role models that people might aspire to follow? Who are the Richard Bransons of the construction industry?’, and after scratching our heads I am afraid to say we couldn’t come up with any – apart from a couple of slightly strange architects perhaps that people knew about, but there were not many heads of constructions businesses. However we discovered that the real heroes of our industry were the buildings. They were quite iconic and our advertising has focused on the buildings.

Another interesting twist is that a while ago people were very taken with IT but they have rapidly fallen out of love with IT, they see it as a tool now - and not necessarily always a tool for good. Our advertisements have now focused on moving from virtual reality into reality because the kids are becoming interested in doing something which makes something real for society. That seems to be hitting a chord and we are seeing the industry becoming much more popular with children, our rank has gone up and up and up, and certainly what we are now beginning to find is it is not so much a shortage of people interested in coming into the industry, it is more the shortage of starter jobs to get them started that is becoming the choke point. I don’t know whether Nicola wants to add to people’s views, including parents’ views about which we have just got the research today?

Sir Michael Latham: Nicola Thompson is Head of ConstructionSkills Communications and Marketing.

Nicola Thompson (Director of Communications and Marketing, ConstructionSkills): I would just add that that is the point. The views of young people now are far more open-minded about the career choices they can make and far more favourably inclined to construction, which is now out of sync with the views of their parents who are still entrenched in the view that they should be doctors, teachers or the like. We have just carried out some parental research that we are using as a hook for PR at the moment, so in the next couple of days you might see and read some of that. It was in the FT this morning for example, and we did some radio interviews, which is our way of getting to parents and to address these issues with them directly.

Sir Michael Latham: Thank you very much; next point, thoughts? Yes, Barry?

Barry Clark (Newcastle University): I would just like to reinforce those messages from higher education. The thing that we are picking up from our students – our architects, planners and civil engineers – is the ‘Wow’ factor when people look out and see the built environment, the iconic buildings that are appearing. I appreciate a lot of construction does not impact on the public perception, but in fact the structures that are appearing across the country are having an impact.

The second thing that we are picking up is that the young people are seeing this as an opportunity for a career which has meaning. It is not a dirty job any more, it is a job where they can do something beneficial to society, and a lot of this comes back to the sustainability concept. They are thinking about the future.

The third thing that has come across is that, as someone mentioned before, the construction course is multi-disciplinary, it is not physics, it is not chemistry, it covers many disciplines and therefore it attracts people who are interested in a job. It doesn’t necessarily mean going into the construction industry, but the courses give them skills for life. Those three things together are starting to see the upturn in people applying for positions in universities and higher education.

Sir Michael Latham: Thank you, Barry; I can only say that I agree with that, and welcome it. Anybody else want to comment?

Bernard Dykes (President, Painters & Decorators Association): I was interested to hear Sir Michael’s remarks on the programme of apprenticeship, and it explained a few areas that I had a bit of concern over – the concern that we were maybe keeping the children in school until 18 and wondering when we would get to start training them. However I can see that the apprenticeship programme now fits into an area where the lads who were not successful in getting fixed up now have a second opportunity, and a course that they can go along. But what I am not so sure about is where we are going with the diploma in the built environment? Where do you see the graduates from that scheme, the people achieving this – is it at GCSE? – do you see them entering at the higher level in the industry or will they be coming in at the operative level?

Sir Michael Latham: I will make a few remarks first and then Graham will have to say something about the diploma. I would just like to say this about the programme-led partner-ships approach: there are, as everybody in this room knows, somewhere between 7,500 and 10,000 young people currently in colleges of FE who have not gone there having been scrutinised by ConstructionSkills first. They do not have an employer and therefore they cannot get any site experience, therefore they can’t get an NVQ and they cannot complete a framework apprenticeship. It was exactly in order to deal with that difficult situation that, in conjunction with both the major home builders group and the major contractors group, we have introduced this programme, the part-ways approach, by which in effect a variety of people working in the supply chain can work with the major contractor or the major home builder (or they can do it directly themselves, whichever they prefer), in order to ensure that the young person does actually get some site experience and therefore can complete their NVQ and a framework apprenticeship.

As we all know, again, the practical reality for boys or girls who go to colleges of FE at 16 without an employer, is that quite a lot of them drop out pretty quickly which is a waste of money and a waste of their time as well, and another proportion of them drop out after six to nine months and go to work with their brother or their father or whatever and call themselves ‘builder and contractor’. We want to get away from that approach, so I am very glad that is going ahead, and it will to my mind be very important.

So far as the diploma is concerned, when the Government first announced this we reacted very strongly to it, that we wanted to be in the first wave of doing this. Nick may want to say something and I am sure Guy Hazlehurst will want to say something, but first I would just say that when we started talking with the Government three or four years ago about a GCSE, which now of course is in place, I was shown very early on a draft programme of what the GCSE in construction should be (this was in about 2002 or early 2003). I said to Guy’s predecessor Sheila, ‘This won’t do’ and she said ‘Why not? The committee has approved it’, and I said ‘It won’t do for this reason; it might interest the kids, possibly, it might possibly interest the parents and teachers, but it certainly won’t interest the industry. We need a much more focused and practical course than that’, and that is what has subsequently happened, I am glad to say, and I think the same must be true of the diploma.

However as to where it is going to, I will ask Guy to say a few words and then Nick or Graham. So Guy Hazlehurst, Acting Director of Strategy?

Guy Hazlehurst (Director of Skills Strategy, ConstructionSkills): Thank you Sir Michael, I agree with the points you have made there. The key to most of the integration is working with other SSCs, being at the centre of something which is very exciting, being very up-front as one of the first five, and not just working across the interests of the craft and operational skills but also the professional ones with CIC. We are incredibly engaged; there is an awful lot of work going on at the moment which is developmental and we will be keeping you posted as to how things develop, but the key thing for us is that we are at the centre of something which is extremely exciting, and giving us a huge amount of work at the moment putting them all together.

Sir Michael Latham: And will it be practical? That is what I think the President was asking.

Guy Hazlehurst: That is very much the focus of the whole programme – very much so, yes.

David Harvey (Chairman, ACIFC): We are not a football club, we are the Association of Concrete Industrial Flooring Contractors. The question is two-fold: we have worked extremely closely as an organisation and all our members have worked with you for the last few years, the CITB that is, and considerable funds have been made available. What assurances have we got that those funds are continually going to be available for us in the next few years, so that we can continue training? We do all put a lot of time and effort into it, and as a reward we have these CSCS cards and training all our guys to NVQs, but again what assurances do we have that those are the people that are going to be in work, the companies that are going to be in work, and clients are not going to continue using people who are not trained?

Sir Michael Latham: Fair enough; I will ask our Chief Executive and our Accounting Officer, Peter Lobban, to say something about that, but we will certainly want to be working very closely with your Association.

Peter Lobban: There are two different issues; firstly what assurances can we give you that we will not mix up ‘Levy payers’ money with Sector Skills Council activities. As the Chairman said, as Accounting Officer it is my job to make sure that that does not ever happen, and in fact we can see how we do that in our structure. We are going to review our governance structures and our committee structures and our accounting structures, to make absolutely sure that every penny given by Levy payers goes to Levy payers activities and not to wider activities.

Peter Lobban: Yes, and we would be in front of the Public Accounts Committee if that was ever not the case – but wider than that as a Sector Skills Council we can attract wider funding than the Levy, and that is the whole point of being a Sector Skills Council, so hopefully there will be more funding that will become available.

The second issue you raised was about clients and whether they will continue to specify CSCS cards – I think that was the gist of your point. That is likely to grow, from what we can see. CSCS is in charge of its own destiny but we manage the scheme and administer it, and I am very pleased to say that there has been a very big take-up now of CSCS cards, we are really seeing it beginning to rip through. We are at double our forecast now for this year, and it is very, very gratifying that it is being picked up. It has given us a heck of a job keeping pace with demand, and I hope not too many people are waiting on phones to be answered, but we are really pushing up our capacity and that is great just in terms of the number of cards.

We are also talking to quite a few of the peculiars. Sir Michael mentioned our Construction Skills Network; we have the Office of Government Commerce as part of that. With the Olympics work we are speaking with the ODA and CLM and we are pretty confident they are going to specify these kinds of things in contracts. Guy has some research coming out, and we are trying to build a report showing previous examples of how people have specified skills and training requirements within contracts. There are some people who say it cannot be done but we want to debunk that argument, and also show people how it can be done quite easily, so hopefully that will push ahead as well.

Sir Michael Latham: James, do you want to say a few words about CSCS and major contractors’ requirements for it and so on?

James Wates: Yes, sure; it is well publicised that the major contractors group wanted 100 per cent compliance as of 1 January this year. We haven’t quite got there but have got very close to it, and that made a big step change, but also as I said in my words earlier the Government in its many shapes and forms is the biggest single client the industry has, and from the Strategic Forum point of view we are working closely with them to try and make that a prerequisite for selection for Government projects, to have a CSCS card. So qualification is right at the heart of things, and it will be something that will continue to be driven.

Sir Michael Latham: Thank you very much; another thought or comment? It is not compulsory but it is your turn. [No further comments]

Okay; the good news is we were five minutes late on site but we are quarter of an hour early leaving, which is a really good partnering operation, an effective and integrated team! I would like to thank you all very much for coming and for representing your organisations or your companies here today. I hope you feel it has been a useful occasion; we very much wanted to have an occasion where ConstructionSkills could reach out to the professional institutions and to individual firms and the Federations and so on, and to hear their concerns and thoughts and issues, which has been very, very valuable to us. Please let us have your feedback, if you want to, about how you think the day went because I expect we will want to do the same in 12 months time to ensure there is this wider focus of our work.

I would also like to thank very much, if I may, Nick and James for speaking to us so eloquently, and for them and indeed other colleagues for answering your questions and commenting on your thoughts. Thank you all very much for coming, and I wish you all a safe journey either back to your offices or home, wherever you are going. Thanks very much indeed. [Applause]

[Meeting concluded]

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